Feminism and Makeup- Can they Co Exist?

Different Kinds of Feminisms

I am often asked, as a makeup artist, with a background in feminist scholarship how it's possible that my passion for makeup and for feminism can go hand in hand? Feminism is a complex discursive framework: there are many types of feminisms and many different takes on those feminisms. Beyonce borrowed from Nigerian feminist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie when she boiled its definition down to “feminist: a person who believes in the social, political and economic equality between the sexes”. I am hardly going to start unpacking all the layers of what those ideas mean here, but I will just say this: equality is not the be all and end all of feminism. I think examining freedom may help us more in the context of understanding feminism’s intersection with makeup and what it means.

Makeup and Marxism

The global beauty industry is couched in a global neo-liberal capitalist framework. That means it is necessarily going to attach any products, concepts and ideas it sells to the bottom line of profit. So that means any and all makeup products, associated ideas of beauty and trends are going to be attached to profit. It’s the world we live in. I am simply making that observation here, not making a judgement.

A feminism that advocates for freedom of choice in all matters is one thing, but it doesn’t exist in a world outside of this one. That is to say, our freedoms are limited by constraints of the global capitalist and patriarchal systems we live in. We happen to live in a world where social norms put a lot of constructed value on female’s looks. It isn’t fair, but again, it’s just another observation I am making here.

When any one who identifies as a woman uses makeup, is she exercising a truly free choice? Or is she making a choice that has been pre constructed for her? Is she really free to choose her notions of beauty or is she choosing from a pre ordained list of options that the beauty industry has put before her? Is she simply participating in a system where beauty, looks, emotions and profits are all muddled together and sold in a pretty package? It’s certainly one way of looking at this intersection of makeup and feminism.

On the other hand, what about the choices women make knowing full well what this system is? I am a beauty blogger, writing about this topic, but using makeup products on the daily and making product review videos about them. Does that make me a sell out feminist? Do I have any agency in this at all?  That very question brings me back to the topic of freedom. If I live in a world where my choices are limited by systems of power that operate around us and control us all, and knowing that full well I still choose to participate in this complicated beauty world where does that leave me?

Beauty Nomad in Action

My complicated reflection on the question of 'whether or not feminism, and the ideas that inform what makeup is, can co-exist within the same bracket' is simply this: that the two are not mutually exclusive. One does not necessarily negate or preclude the other. I am a makeup artist, I am a feminist, I am an advocate for more equal systems of power, and I am woman who likes to groom her looks to fit my own ideas of what is beautiful.